And when he headed to the disabled list for the first time in his career, the hope was Ryan Vogelsong could just provide *something* decent pitching-wise out of the fifth rotation spot.
But Vogelsong -- one of the players dealt to the Pirates in the famous Jason Schmidt trade a while ago -- has actually pitched pretty freaking well since returning "home," and it makes this -- "Can he permanently keep Zito's rotation spot?" -- a legitimate question.
For the moment though, it's not something Vogelsong's worried about.
"All I concentrate on is who is standing in the box, the signs and hitting the glove," he said, per Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle. "Thinking about anything else, that's mind clutter."
That's what Vogelsong has to say, of course. Even if Zito and his albatross of a contract are the most disappointing things to hit SF since, well, um, ever, there's still some inclination to get him action in the hopes he can turn back into the guy who once won a Cy Young.
Having said that, Bruce Bochy and Brian Sabean ain't scared to put Zito aside -- look no further than when they left him off the playoff roster during last year's title run.
But if Vogelsong keeps dealing like he did on Sunday -- he took a perfect game into the sixth inning during his first start at a Giants stadium in seven years -- he'll keep getting a response from the fans like the standing ovation that made his day.
"That's the best experience I've ever had in baseball, to be honest with you," Vogelsong said. "It was awesome. My first start here as a Giant, and to pitch like that and to have the fans recognize not only the way I pitched but I think also the journey that it's been … to have them recognize that, that's what made it the best."
Vogelsong is now 2-0, with a 3.05 ERA, a 0.97 WHIP and a 17:7 K:BB ratio over 20.2 innings. Those numbers are, pretty clearly, over a limited sample size, so it's entirely possible that we could see them vacilate wildly over his next few starts.
And it's also entirely possible -- likely, even, as his .193 batting average on balls in play suggests? -- that Vogelsong could revert to his career numbers (5.68 ERA, 1.55 WHIP) for the remainder of his time with the Giants' rotation.
If that's the case, it seems pretty unlikely that Zito would lose his gig as the fifth starter, and Vogelsong would either head back to Fresno, or potentially fill a role as a long reliever.
But if he can manage to pitch either a) like he has since jumping in the Giants rotation or b) even just keep his ERA under 4.00, there's a pretty darn good shot that he can help Sabean and Bochy justify allowing him to replace Zito's in the rotation.